THE MEDICINE

IN

SHAKESPEARE

  

BY

ORVILLE W. OWEN, M. D.,
DETROIT, MICH.

 

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Extracts from a lecture at a stated meeting of the Detroit Medical and Library Association.

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"All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players," and from time to time in the tragedy of this world’s history there appears amongst the actors of this earthly theater some wonderful performer who embodies, perhaps the inventive genius of a whole decade. Such a man, whoever he may have been, was the author of the plays which lie before me. His stupendous genius was not recognized in his own day, yet under the cover of "a despised weed he has done the greatest good to mankind," teaching them to know themselves, and holding up before them the looking-glass of truth, creating, as he did, a new language, and aptly illustrating each new thought with visible actors, who, picturing the action, taught the word. So universal was his brain that the lawyer, the astronomer, and the physician, each claims him for his own. The priest denies their claims, the scientist is sure that he belongs to him, the mystic throws aside each claim with quotations of his own, and so, through the whole category of men the brotherhood is found. But the lecturer tonight being first and foremost a member of that great profession which a god has delighted to follow, will not allow the honor to be taken from the medical profession, and will try to show he must have been (if not a doctor of medicine) a close student of our learned art. Was he an anatomist? Every portion of the human body known to his day is mentioned. Was he a student of physiology? Physiological functions are given in detail. Had he knowledge of materia medica? He speaks of many medicines.

Was he a neurologist? It might be called his specialty, and I must confess I feel hardly competent to analyze his wonderful descriptions and delineations in this great field of our science. All this lecture might be taken up with abstracts upon this one theme, for all the types of insanity are fully described and in the most beautiful language.

The sleep-walking dementia of Lady Macbeth is paralleled by the suicidal insanity of Ophelia. King Lear’s delirium is a good foil to Hamlet’s feigned madness. The tragical jealousy of Othello, is a counterfoil to the comical jealousy of Master Ford. Richard the Third, Macbeth, Edmund, Malvolio, the different fools, Gonerill, Timon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus, will, in the order named, show types of either real or feigned madness, or mental instability. Notice, if you please, where Macbeth, tied to the stake rages like a chained bear, he counterparts Richard the Third’s frenzy of despair. Hamlet’s knowledge "that when the wind is north northeast he knowes a hawke from a handsaw" is aptly parodied by Touchstone, who, under cover of his folly shoots his wit, for he uses his folly as a stalking horse and shoots his quips and wisdom from that cover in an inimitable manner. Othello’s "trifles light as air are confirmations strong as holy writ," for like the Tartar’s bow, they fly backward to Master Ford, who "searches a hollow walnut" for his wife’s lover.

A great specialist of our own day says "one of the first symptoms of insanity is continual smiling." Turn to Twelfth Night and see how Malvolio is adjudged insane, because he came before his mistress cross-gartered and smiling. See how this master of medicine gave this truth to the world three hundred years ago. How did he know it? Where did he find it if not from the study of the insane? Do not men differ today as to Hamlet’s mental condition? Did he not ape the real article so well that the picture is too life-like not to be misunderstood? Was he really or only feignedly insane?

Sir Walter Scott said, "the death-bed scene of poor old Jack Falstaff is the most pathetic and pitiful death-scene ever written."

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I wish to open up a comparatively new question--the circulation of the blood as found in the plays. With it I shall give you a little anatomical knowledge from the plays, for the author must have either dissected the human body or at least seen it done, and that he was perfectly familiar with the experiments and proofs of the circulation I think I can show to your satisfaction. For we find it scattered through all the thirty-six plays contained in this volume, and in so plain and elaborate a manner that I cannot believe but that I can show you he was either the original discoverer of the great anatomical and physiological truth or knew intimately the experiments and dissections upon which it is based. Here I make an extraordinary statement which is, if William Shakespeare wrote the plays bearing his name, he discovered the circulation of the blood instead of Dr. William Harvey. And further, if Shakespeare wrote the plays, Harvey stole the discovery from Shakespeare. One of these statements must be correct if it is allowed for an instant that William Shakespeare wrote the plays, and I will now proceed to prove my statement. I must preface it with a short epitome of both Harvey and Shakespeare.

Dr. Harvey took his literary degree at Caius College, Cambridge, and his medical degree at the great school of medicine at Padua. He returned to London and was, in the year 1615, appointed Lumlian professor at Bartholomew Hospital. In the year 1616, about the latter part, he made his first discovery of the circulation, but did not make it public until the year 1619, when he published his first little monograph upon the subject, but it was not until the year 1628 that he became fully sure the world was ready for the announcement. In that year he published the work which makes him famous at the present day.

Master William Shakespeare finished writing, so his biographers tell us, in the year 1612, and although the works bearing his name were not published until 1623, and although they were double in amount, all of them having been rewritten, still, the gentlemen referred to say he did nothing after 1612. Master William, having finished his work, thought it best to depart from this vale of tears, and did so in April, 1616. Notice the last of his writing, done in 1612, and his death occurring in the April before Harvey makes his discovery.

If there is one word in the plays of the circulation, then there is a great discrepancy between Shakespeare and Harvey. For if Harvey did make it Shakespeare must have risen from his grave to write it in the 1623 edition. If, on the other hand, Shakespeare wrote it before his death, then Harvey must have stolen it. The first thought that arises is, get the early editions of the plays and see if it was in them. But here steps in a difficulty which we cannot overcome, namely, six of the plays never appeared except in the 1623 edition, and all the others are completely rewritten and enlarged to about double their original size. For instance, Richard Third’s whole opening speech, commencing "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York" is not found in any of the early editions of the plays. So of them all, they are so changed from the first printed copies that there is no use in citing them in any way, so that we are forced to abide by the 1623 edition and no other.

This being the case, and as the 1623 is the only edition having all the so-called Shakespeare plays, we will use that as the basis of comparison. If you will take your facsimile of 1623 and turn to Coriolanus, page 2, you may read the first of the quotations I shall make:

"Your most grave belly was deliberate,

Not rash like his accusers and thus answered:

True is it, my incorporate friend, quoth he,

That I receive the general food at first

Which do you live upon; and fit it is;

Because I am the store-house and the shop

Of the whole body: but if you do remember,

I send it through the rivers of your blood,

Even to the court the heart--to th’ seat o’ th’ braine;

And, through the cranks and offices of man,

The strongest nerves, and small inferior veines,

From me receive that natural competencie

Whereby they live; and though that all at once,

You, my good friends (this says the belly) mark me.

Now please turn to Romeo and Juliette, page 53, and read:

With purple fountains issuing from your veins.

Then the same, page 71:

Take thou this viole, being then in bed,

And this distilling liquor drink thou of,

When presently through all thy veins shall run

A cold and drowsy humor, for no pulse

Shall keep his native progress but surcease;

No warmth nor breath shall testify thou livest;

The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade.

Next turn to Love’s Labour Lost, page 135

Why, universal plodding poisions up

The nimble spirits in the arteries:

As motion, and long during action, tires

The sinewy vigor of the traveler.

Now drop down the same column and read:

Lives not alone emured in the brain;

But with the motion of all elements,

Courses as swift as thought in every power;

And gives to every power a double power,

Above their functions and their offices.

It adds a precious seeing to the eye;

Turn to the same play, page 134, and read:

When a hand, a foot, a face, an eye, a gait, a state, a brow, a breast, a waist, a leg, a limb.

Now Twelfth Night, page 255:

Liver, brain, and heart,

These sovereign thrones are all supplied and filled.

The same, page 266:

If he were opened and you find so much blood in his liver

As will clog the foot of a flea, I will eat th’ rest of th’ anatomy.

Now turn to Henry the Sixth, part II., page 134:

See how the blood is settled in his face.

Oft have I seene a timely-parted ghost

Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale, and bloodless

Being all descended to the labouring heart

Who in the conflict that it holds with death

Attracts the same for aydance ’gainst the enemy

Which with the heart there cools and ne’re returneth

To blush and beautifie the cheek againe.

But see his face is blacke and full of blood.

Now read Henry the Fourth, part II., page 92:

The vitall commoners and inland pettie spirits

Muster me all to their capitaine, the heart, who great

And puft up with his retinue, doth any deed of courage.

TheWinter’s Tale, page 302 reads:

Let be, let be would I were dead but that methinks alreadie

(What was he that did make it) see (my Lord) would you not deeme

It breathed and that those veines

Did verily beare blood?

Masterly done.

The very life seems warm upon her lippe;

The fixture of her eye has motion in it, as we

Are mock’d with art.

Merchant of Venice, page 179, reads:

A messenger with letters from the doctor, new come from Padua.

And just below it read:

My flesh, blood, bones and all

Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.

As You Like It, page 204,

William, Sir;

And Henry the Fourth, part first, page 50:

Falstaff, Harvey Rossil.

Merry Wives of Windsor, page 42:

Master Doctor Caius.

Love’s Labour Lost, page 122:

The which I hope well is not enrolled there.

Much Ado About Nothing, page 121, reads:

A college of witcrackers

Page 144:

Ile change my blacke gowne.

You shall this twelve months terme from day to day

Visite the speechlesse sicke and still converse

With groaning wretches with all the fierce endeavor of your wit

To enforce the pained impotent to smile;

To move wild laughter in the throate of death

A twelve month well befall what will befall

Ile jest a twelve month in an hospitall.

Now, Henry the Fourth, part II., page 84:

Little Tydie Bartholomew.

Midsomer’s Night’s Dreame, page 151:

If I cut my finger I shall make bold with you.

All’s Well That Ends Well, page 235:

When our most learned doctors leave us and

The congregated college have concluded

That labouring art can never ransome nature

From her inaydible estate.

The same, page 238:

Strange it is that our bloods

Of colour, waight, and heat pour’d all together would quite confound destinction.

Winter’s Tale, page 278:

I have tremor cordis on me, my heart daunces

But not for joy, not joy.

King John, page 11:

Had bak’d thy blood and made it thicke and heavy

Which else runs tickling up and downe the veines.

As You Like It, page 193:

My lungs began to crow like chanticleere.

The same,

That in civility thou seemst so emptie

You touched my veines at first the thorny point.

Henry Fourth, second part, page 85:

And changes fill the cup of alteration with divers liquor.

If my hearers will now read these quotations all together I think they will be obliged to admit that the author of the plays had a very good knowledge of the great discovery. See how the words meet and join, arteries, veins, inferior veins, spirits run through the veins, pulse surcease, mocked with art. Purple distilling liquor blush and beautifie the cheek, nimble spirits through the arteries, et cetera. Is this chance? If it were in one place it might be, but as it recurs again and again it must have been put there for some purpose and as the author was in his grave, that is if Shakespeare was the author of the plays, Harvey must have stolen the great discovery.

If you will now permit me to place these quotations together I think I can amuse you for a moment; see if it cannot be read about as follows:

"I have oft seene Dr. William Harvey, the new doctor from Padua, at Bartholomew Hospital, in the presence of the learned doctors, force a purple, distilling liquor through the veines of a dead body, and, after it had descended to the heart, liver, and lungs, the blood-coloured liquor returneth againe to the face which blacke and full of blood, or pale, meagre, and bloodless before, doth blush and beautifie, as if with life; you would think the body breathed; the very lippe is warme to look upon; but we are mock’d with art as there is no pulse gainst the finger and though the arteries seem full, yet no life is present. The legs, waist, arms, hands, brow, and limbs seem alive, but we can never ransome nature. The doctor was enrolled at Caius College."

In parenthesis I may tell you this extract when completed is signed Sir Francis Bacon.

You can understand that I cannot in this lecture read all the quotations to be found in the play regarding medicine, but I am in hopes that I have given you something new, and for the most part never before given to the world, and thanking you for your kind attention. I will, like the epilogue to an old play, make my bow and exit.

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